History of Steward Observatory

Steward Observatory

Steward Observatory was officially established in 1918 through the foresight and perseverance of its first director, Andrew Ellicott Douglass. Douglass had come to Arizona in 1894 under the sponsorship of Percival Lowell. He was tasked to establish an astronomical observatory which became Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. After he joined the University of Arizona faculty in 1906, Douglas sought to build an observatory in southern Arizona. Steward Observatory was made possible by the generous bequest made in 1916 by Mrs. Lavinia Steward in memory of her late husband, Henry B. Steward.The Steward gift was used to build an observatory on an isolated tract of university land -- a former ostrich farm. Its construction, delayed by World War I, was finally dedicated in 1923. The 36" diameter Newtonian telescope was the first astronomical telescope to have been built using All-American made products.


By 1963, however, its once solitary setting -- ideal for stargazing -- had been encroached upon by an expanding Tucson, and the observatory's original telescope was removed from the dome and relocated to a darker mountain site on Kitt Peak. A smaller 21" Cassegrain telescope was installed in its place for student use. The original dome, a stately structure covered with cream colored tile, is a campus landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On April 23, 1923, the Steward Observatory was officially dedicated. On this occasion, Prof. A.E. Douglass delivered an address that described the genesis of astronomy in Southern Arizona, recounted the trials and tribulations of building the observatory, and expressed his hopes for the future. The entire address is linked below:

Historical Address upon the Dedication of Steward Observatory

Drs. Tom Fleming and Phil Pinto have prepared presentations giving the history of Steward Observatory, including many photographs.

Part 1: The Early History ( 21.2 MB pdf)

Part 2: 1960 - Present (13.8 MB pdf)